Food Will Win the War!

Eat local, meatless Mondays, go wheatless, more fruits and vegetables, less white sugar— many of the things we hear a lot about today Americans did during World War I.  The Library Company’s exhibition Together We Win: The Philadelphia Homefront During the First World War explores activities on the homefront, which included food conservation and the ways in which every American could “do their part” to help win the war through their food choices. On display in the exhibit are cookbooks, magazines, colorful posters, and photographs.

John Sheridan, Food is Ammunition (New York: United States Food Administration, 1918). Color lithograph.

 
The war caused a severe food crisis in Europe, and the United States also had over four million servicemen to feed.  America needed to provide a large quantity of food. The United States Food Administration, created in 1917 and headed by Herbert Hoover, campaigned to convince Americans to voluntarily change their eating habits in order to have enough food. This included conserving wheat, meat, sugar, and fats so those items could be sent overseas. The Food Administration advocated using alternatives like honey or molasses for sugar and corn or barley for wheat.  They educated with memorable slogans, such as “when in doubt, eat potatoes” and “help us observe the Gospel of the clean plate” and invented “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays.” To free up transportation for war supplies, they encouraged buying locally produced food, or better still, growing liberty gardens. They campaigned with vibrant posters and published recipes and sample menus in pamphlets, newspapers, and magazines.

Apple Brown Betty recipe from: Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company, War-Time: Cook and Health Book (Lynn, MA, 1917). Gift of William H. Helfand.

Linda August, Curator of Arts and Artifacts and co-curator of Together We Win, along with Digital Outreach Librarians, Concetta Barbera and Arielle Middleman, created the World War I Test Kitchen to gain better understanding of this topic. They selected four food conservation recipes and filmed the cooking of them. The first dish, Apple Brown Betty, may be the quintessential war time recipe. It uses fruit (locally grown is even better) and substitutes molasses for sugar, while also using leftover bread in the crumb topping. Additionally, they made a “wheatless” [i.e. gluten-free] sweet potato gingerbread and two savory, meatless meals, bean loaf with tomato sauce and cottage cheese sausage. Library Company staff served as the taste testers and surprisingly everything turned out to be delicious.  The first video is posted on our website here. Please check back to see the forthcoming episodes.

This post is also available here: 
http://togetherwewin.librarycompany.org/food-conservation-during-wwi-post/ 

Linda August
Curator of Art and Artifacts and Reference Librarian
Co-Curator of Together We Win